Alaska gubernatorial candidate Les Gara campaigns on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Nate Graham, courtesy of Les Gara)

Alaska gubernatorial candidate Les Gara campaigns on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Nate Graham, courtesy of Les Gara)

Gara brings gubernatorial bid to peninsula

The former state lawmaker announced last summer that he would be challenging incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy

Alaska gubernatorial candidate Les Gara visited Seward over the weekend, meeting the mayor and connecting with local business owners. He was in town for the Alaska Democratic Party State Convention, which was held in Seward this year, but also spent time talking to people about his bid to become the next governor of Alaska.

Gara, a former Alaska state lawmaker, is originally from Fairbanks but moved to Anchorage to work on the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill response. He grew up in the foster care system in New York after his father was killed. He announced last summer that he would be challenging incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy for Alaska’s top political seat.

In a May 6 conversation with the Clarion, Gara, who will appear on Alaska ballots alongside Jessica Cook, his pick for lieutenant governor, emphasized his commitment to bringing back Alaska’s construction budget, improving Alaska’s public education system and reducing the state’s out-migration of residents.

“I just don’t see a future in the state under the current governor,” Gara said of Dunleavy.

Gara criticized the use of state money for tax credits for oil companies and called a boost in state oil revenue caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine “blood money” that is not “anything to be super proud of.” He said Dunleavy has not lived up to campaign promises made about the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend and has pitted stakeholders against each other.

“I believe in funding the PFD,” he said. “ … We could have a bigger PFD than this governor has ever paid. Ending $1.3 billion in oil company tax credits won’t pit people who want a strong PFD against people who want good schools, against people who want a university, against people who want job training. We should be doing all of those things.”

Generally, Gara said Alaska should continue to develop oil resources as long as there is demand, but that the state should also be investing in renewables and training residents for 21st century work. He described renewable energy as offering a “trifecta” for Alaska, in that it can: reduce the cost of energy, put people to work and offset climate change.

“We certainly should keep moving ahead with the oil and gas industry as long as there’s a demand for those things,” Gara said. “But we have to recognize the world is changing and the state needs to find a way to diversify.”

Though a Democrat, Gara said he does not necessarily subscribe to some of the “strident things” the party advocates for on a national level. He cited his work in the Legislature to form a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers to advance legislation — including reform to the state’s foster care system — as an example of how he’d work with the Legislature to get things done in Juneau.

“I had to get (the foster care legislation) through a Senate that was 15 Republicans and five Democrats,” Gara said. “You have to be able to work across party lines and find common ground, and I’m able to do that.”

As debate over reproductive rights and abortion access boils at the federal level, Gara said he is the only pro-choice candidate running for governor. He said key to protecting a woman’s right to choose is ensuring that justices appointed by the governor are ones who will “uphold our precedent.”

“Every single candidate I’m running against is pro-life,” Gara said. “I respect their values, (but) those aren’t my values. My belief is I don’t have the right to tell a woman what her private health decisions should be.”

When asked where he would like to see Alaska be in the next five or 10 years, Gara said he wants to see responsible mining (he opposes the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay), a robust state construction budget and more opportunities for Alaskans. ” That, among other things, includes strong fisheries, robust vocational education and new jobs.

“I tried to stand up for the state in the Legislature,” Gara said. “I will stand up for people and the right to jobs and the right to opportunity as the first former foster youth ever to become governor in the State of Alaska.”

Incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce, Alaska House Rep. Christopher Kurka, Libertarian candidate William Toien, Republican Bruce Walden and former Gov. Bill Walker are also vying for the position of governor.

The 2022 state election primary will be held on Aug. 16. Alaska’s general election is on Nov. 8. More information about the election can be found at elections.alaska.gov.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to clarify that Gara grew up in foster care in New York.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulclarion.com.

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